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Arthur Verocai With Nu Civilisation Orchestra At Barbican Hall

Arthur Verocai With Nu Civilisation Orchestra At Barbican Hall

Courtesy Tomorrow's Warriors / Graeme Miall

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Arthur Verocai with Nu Civilisation Orchestra
Barbican Hall
Arthur Verocai
London
June 28, 2024

To begin where the evening ended, it surely must be that the phenomenal standing ovation which concluded Arthur Verocai's concert was the most tumultuous ever heard in Barbican Hall. It was loud enough literally to hurt the ears. And every decibel was deserved, for though devoid of any presentational histrionics, the performance had been spectacular. It was at all times strictly about the music. And what music! The program recreated Arthur Verocai (Continental Records, 1972), a blend of jazz, samba, bossa nova, Philly soul and acid rock which can credibly claim to be the all-time greatest masterpiece of orchestral tropicália.

Mid-to-late 20th-century Brazilian music produced more than its share of lost albums, and Arthur Verocai is up there with the most mythic of them. Bafflingly, it sold poorly on its original release and received virtually no radio play. Perhaps it was too off-the-wall, even by the standards of tropicália; perhaps fear of reprisals from Brazil's military regime, which actively punished progressive artistic expression, discouraged radio stations from playlisting it; probably it was a combination of both those things. Whatever the reason, following Arthur Verocai's commercial failure, Verocai did not record again under his own name for decades. Instead he made a living composing advertising jingles and other trivia. His treasure of an album lay uncelebrated until US hip-hoppers started sampling it in the late 1990s and American and European music media began championing it. It was first reissued in 2002, and Verocai was coaxed back into the studio, recording the self-released Saudade Demais later that year.

Following the belated discovery of the album, Verocai has been able to tour Arthur Verocai to leading concert halls around the world. Three days before the Barbican gig he was performing at Amsterdam's Concertgebouw with The Netherlands' Metropole Orkest. At the Barbican he was joined by the Nu Civilisation Orchestra, a cross-genre ensemble launched in 2008 by Gary Crosby, the co-founder and artistic director of Tomorrow's Warriors. The 25-piece line-up, which included a 12-strong string section, featured London jazz luminaries trumpeter and producer Noel Langley and tenor saxophonist Denys Baptiste, who took several soaring solos. (Baptiste has kept a low profile during the last few years and it was more than good to have him back.) The line-up also included rising stars trombonist Rosie Turton and violinist Johanna Burnheart. (A review of Burnheart's sophomore album, Bär, self-released in 2024, which she co-produced with Noel Langley, can be read here.) The Brazilian contingent included Verocai's son, Ricardo Verocai, on keyboards, and guest singers Rogê and Paula Santoro. The complete line-up is given below.

In interviews, Verocai is disarmingly self-deprecating and this was reflected in his demeanour onstage. Eschewing the conventions of stagecraft, he spent almost the entire performance facing the orchestra, even when making the occasional announcement, concentrating on the conducting and making no attempt to "sell" the music. If Cab Calloway, bless him, was at one end of the spectrum, Verocai is at the other. Even when he joined Rogê and Santoro on the vocals for "Coboclo," he sang in the main while facing the musicians, holding the mic in one hand and conducting with the other.

As is his wont at these concerts, Verocai resequenced Arthur Verocai's running order, kicking off with the closer, "Karina"—as the album's most forceful track it serves well as a live starter—and including the quieter opener, "Coboclo," later in the program. But all ten tracks were heard, most of them in the first half of the 90 minute program. The remaining six pieces included "Bis" and "Sucuri," two of the standouts from Encore (Far Out, 2007). See below for the set list.

Good as Encore is—it was marketed as the sequel to Arthur Verocai—the best sequel is Timeless (Mochilla, 2010), a live recording made in Los Angeles in 2009 with much the same program and a similar-sized orchestra. Though it lacks the sonic patina of the original album, Timeless is on several levels superior to Arthur Verocai. Check the YouTube below. Verocai has expanded the arrangements and the album's audio is richer, with much more clarity and presence than on the 1972 version, where the entire orchestra, strings, singers and all, had to be squeezed through a four-track sound desk.

Timeless itself is long overdue for reissue. The Barbican performance was at least as good. Even as bad actors on the world stage strive to divide communities and nations, it was a demonstration of music's unique ability to bring people together. Music is, indeed, the food of love.

P.S. Arthur Verocai's ranking as a nearly lost Brazilian masterpiece is rivalled only by two other albums. One is Nara Leão's Opinião De Nara, released on Philips in 1964, a heroic and musically sublime act of resistance against the military junta, recorded six months after the generals seized power. It was not reissued until 2002. The other album is José Prates' Tam... Tam... Tam...!, released on Polydor in 1958, which occupies a place in the lineage of Brazilian music roughly analogous to that of King Kong, released on Decca in 1961, in South Africa. It was not reissued until 2014.

SET LIST: "Karina," "Sylvia," "Snake Eyes," "Dedicada a Ela," "O Velho Parente," "Presente Grego," "O Mapa," "Pelas Sombras," "Seriado," "Caboclo," "Na Boca do Sol," "O Tempo e o Vento," "Sucuri," "Mistério da Raça," "Isabel Tchau," "Bis." Encores: "Na Boca do Sol," "Dedicada a Ela."

ORCHESTRA LINEUP: Will Gibson: alto saxophone, flute; Lewis Daniel: alto saxophone, flute; Denys Baptiste: tenor saxophone, flute; Rowland Sutherland: flute, piccolo; Noel Langley: trumpet; Dave Boraston: trumpet; Rosie Turton: trombone; Christ-Stephane Boizi: trombone; Ricardo Verocai: keyboards; Jihad Darwish: electric bass, acoustic bass; Giorgio Serci: acoustic guitar, electric guitar; Marcinho Pereira: drums; Jansen Santana: percussion; Abbie Davis: lead violin; Johanna Burnheart, Aaliyah Booker, Yuriko Matsuda: first violins; Valeria Pozzo, Jamal Hope, Sam Brown, Natalia Wierzbicka: second violins; Nicola Hicks, Natalia Senior Brown: violas; Miranda Lewis-Brown, Daniel Spingate: cellos. Guests: Rogê and Paula Santoro: vocals.

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